The Program for International Student Assessment tests 15-year-old students around the world and is administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2018, when the test was last administered, the U.S. placed 11th out of seventy-nine countries in science. It did worse in math, ranking 30th.
The IMD World Competitiveness Center reports that the U.S. is ranked 10th in its 2020 Competitiveness Report. After ranking first in 2018, the U.S. fell to the third spot in 2019. The seven-point tumble to 10th place in 2020 represents the lowest the U.S. has ever been in the annual ranking system by far. (U.S. Education Rankings Are Falling Behind the Rest of the World (thebalance.com))
Those figures are shocking enough. But there is a deeper story too.
The even larger question is this: Are we educating young people for “life”? Consider the significant issues faced by every young person for which there is no training, education, or preparation:
- Bereavement: Almost every young person loses an important person in their life at an early age—a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or even a parent. Divorce is also a bereavement. It’s a traumatic and completely unexpected experience for most young people, for which there is almost no education at school.
- Choosing a Career: 80% of the population would quit their day jobs if they had a free choice. Why are so many people doing work they hate? Career courses in high schools are generic and mediocre at best and career counseling in our education system could be taken more seriously.
- Financial Acumen: One fourth of Americans don’t have any retirement savings and 70% of Americans don’t believe they have enough money to retire (30 Revealing Retirement Statistics & Facts for 2021 (medalerthelp.org)). A mandatory financial literacy course in our education system would help to change this.
- Falling in Love: 55% of first marriages fail—and it gets worse: 65% of second marriages and 75% of third marriages fail too. As part of our education system, shouldn’t we be helping young people to choose their lifelong mates with greater finesse?
- Buying a House: For the fortunate few who can even afford to buy a house, most first-time house buyers have no idea what they’re doing and wouldn’t know rising damp, dry rot, or the economics of alternative energy sources from a hole in the ground. One of the most complex and far-reaching decisions of a lifetime is made without preparation—something we could easily correct if it were built into our education system.
- Having Children: Understandably, joy and emotion—and a little trepidation—are the hallmark emotions for couples who are expecting a child. But what do young couples know about introducing and raising a new human being into the world? Some early guidance would be helpful.
- Health and Wellbeing: According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 80% of chronic diseases are driven by lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Greater emphasis on lifestyle choices in our school curriculum (and modelling that in school meals) would result in trillion-dollar changes to our economy, our health costs, and our happiness.
- Compassion: Finally, we are living in times of violence, in which we are plagued with deteriorating mental health across society, especially among young people, increasing cases of domestic abuse, rising gun violence, widespread corporate bullying, and war. Building relationship skills and the importance of caring and compassion into our school curricula could change the world.
Isn’t it time to reassess what we are educating our children for? We need to focus on more than “job fit” because there is more to life than just “work”. How would you reinvent our education system?